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The Open Hearth

The First Generation, A Novel of Immigration
  • Also available as: Perfect Bound Softcover
  • Published: August 2001
  • Format: Dust Jacket Hardcover(B/W)
  • Pages: 480
  • Size: 5.5x8.5
  • ISBN: 9780738857497
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For a decade and a half I´ve been working on a series of novels, under the general title of Generations of Leaves, which concern the Straton family (the first generation hails from Greece) as it becomes "Americanized." The first novel in the series, The Open Hearth,  depicts Gus Straton, an immigrant to Western Pennsylvania, who has come to America as an adolescent to pay off his father´s debts and provide his three sisters with dowries. To survive and fulfill his responsibilities, he must deal with bravos hired to intimidate workers, as well as  struggle through the "Great Steel Strike" of 1919. He leaves the Steel Works to open a bakery with a friend, finds himself locked in conflict with the local KKK that has targeted businesses owned by "foreigners", and returns to Greece to find a wife. He marries Marianthe, a woman of the Anatolian middle class whose family, as a result of the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922, has lost its wealth and left her without a dowry. With this strong, fearless woman, he raises a family during the Depression. He helps form the Steelworkers´ Union during the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937.

While describing the events of the turbulent twentieth century, The Open Hearth chronicles  the gradual Americanization of a Greek family, an age-old process familiar to many of us but not as consciously as it is depicted in the foreground of this novel with the major events of political and society history looming in the background..

Though the Stratons are a unique family whose origins and history are specific, The Open Hearth  makes this one-of-a-kind family representative of a group that has been relatively silent in American fiction. Aside from the fiction of Harry Mark Petrakis, Helen Papanikolas, and Elia Kazan, not many novels and short stories depict the lives of Greeks and Greek Americans in American letters. Even Doulis´s own earlier novels,  Path for our Valor and The Quarries of Sicily, are more mainstream in their focus, the former using only Sergeant Gus Damianos (he appears again, but in childhood and adolescence) in the trio of protagonists, while the latter novel, set on the Island of Chios during the military dictatorship, is more Greek than Greek-American in orientation.

Since it depicts the struggles of the first, immigrant generation, however, the reach of the Stratons in The Open Hearth  can be considered a modest one, since Costa Straton, the steel worker, and Marianthe, an intelligent and educated woman, are at the level where the slightest political and economic problem presents them with major turbulence.

 Divided into three parts, The Open Hearth documents in Book One, From Hell to Breakfast, the life of the bachelors struggling to fulfill the obligations placed on older sons to help their families (or, rather, their fathers´ families) in Greece work their way out of debt and marry off their dowerless sisters. This was a separate culture of men without women in a society suspicious of their foreignness. Marianthe, Book Two, depicts the dowerless bride´s uprootedness from the gracious and comfortable life of Anatolia and her adjustment to marriage as the wife of a small businessman. Later, because of the Depression, she descends to the proletarian class and is the mother of a growing family of children who, despite her fondest hopes and struggles, become American. With others in their community, and Costa as the first president, they struggle to build a church that takes its place in the mosaic of America. But the Depression brings them and the nation down, they lose their business, and are threatened with dissolution as a family. Finally, Book Three, Not That They Starve, is possibly unique in American fiction in its depiction of what has come down in history as "The Little Steel Strike" and the life of workers in the Monongahela Valley as they wage an epic battle for union representation.

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